Thursday, 31 May 2018

Location Inspiration Day
On Thursday 17th May, I'd driven to the RNA Summer Party in Oxford where my writing friend, Sue McDonagh, had been one of the seventeen contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers. It was good to share the celebrations of so many writers who have graduated from the excellent New Writers' Scheme to become published authors in the last year. Congratulations to the winner Hannah Begbie with her contemporary novel, Mother, published by Harper Collins. It was great, too, to catch up with friends I hadn't seen since the Conference.


On Wednesday 23rd, Sue and I set off on our second road trip in as many weeks. This time she was the driver and picked me up bright and early to travel to Dulverton in Somerset. We were going to the first Location Inspiration Day run by Alison Knight and Jenny Kane in the beautiful Northmoor House. The impressive Victorian house is set in magnificent grounds and the weather was as hot and sunny as it had been for the party the week before.

After introductions and an explanation of the format of the day, we were encouraged to explore the house and gardens seeking out inspiration for our writing. We were given a pack containing information about the history of the house and the families who had lived there in the past. It also had a series of challenges and picture prompts of things we could look for as we explored if we wanted to use them.

I spent the morning exploring and taking photographs of anything I could imagine being part of a setting for future stories or when editing existing ones. Greystone Hall in my first novel is based on Abbeycwmhir Hall. When I visited it as part of my research, I was able to get the proportions of the rooms and look at staff photographs to see what the place was like in 1946 but the house is now a very smart tourist attraction and for me lacks the authenticity I needed. However, the owners of Northmoor House, although much smaller in proportion, have retained many of the features I described in the book. It even smelt old in some of the unlived-in rooms and I was transported back in time. For example, the ancient copper could be the very one Rose toiled over when washing the household's bed linen, pummelling the boiling soap suds with a wooden tongs. 

The chamber maids had already brought down the sheets and bolster cases to the scullery and all Rose had to do was get the fires under the coppers going and fill the drums with buckets of water and soap flakes. She carried over bucket after bucket until her arms ached under the weight of the water and the metal pails. The grates were laid with rolled up newspaper and sticks of wood from the day before and Rose lit the fires underneath each copper in turn. . . The fires under the coppers blazed to a roar and the heat soon caused the soapy water to bubble and boil. Rose emptied in the two equal loads of dirty linen and stirred the tubs with the wooden tongs until the bedding was fully submerged. 


Rose and her friend, Maisie, would have a black-leaded a range like this one and scrubbed floors similar to this, perhaps.

The whole place inspired you to want to get writing. In fact that's what many people did. Wherever I wandered, there seemed to be people writing away. When we stopped to have coffee and the delicious cakes provided or eat the packed lunches we'd brought with us, people were talking about what they'd seen or how much they'd written. 

This rocking horse got me planning out my third novel (oops! Haven't quite finished novel 2!) Another mother daughter saga had been forming in my head for a while and I knew it was going to be about a foundling, a little girl. However, immersing myself in Northmoor made me ask so many 'What Ifs?' What if the rocking horse started rocking on its own in the middle of the night? Had the Lord and Lady of the manor lost a child? What was the significance of a horse? I won't say anymore  apart from to tell you that I wrote pages of notes and the idea I originally had is evolving into a definite plan.

Thanks, Sue, for being my chauffeur for the day. It was a long way to go but very enjoyable and worthwhile. . . and we chatted non-stop there and back! A big thank you, too, to Alison and Jenny for organising the aptly named Inspiration Day. I'm sure they'd like me to tell you that they are holding an Imagine Writing Retreat in October at Northmoor House. https://www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk/writing-retreats

Thank you for reading. What place has inspired you? 

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBayLit and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page. 

14 comments:

  1. Emerging from a day of editing, it's lovely to read your post (& a small extract of your writing!) You are certainly making the most of the many writing workshops available to you. I'm in awe to be honest.

    Houses play a big part in all my stories. Ty Aderyn in my first book is entirely imaginary although the village is not. It's based on one I know well. Gull House, in my second, is inspired by a large Victorian house on a hillside near Aberystwyth overlooking Cardigan Bay. In my current story, it's an old, brooding house on the Welsh hinterland. Years ago I saw a photograph of such a house (in Wales) & the image stayed with me.

    Thanks again for an interesting post, Jan. I love hearing about your writing process. xXx

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    1. Thank you, Carol. Houses have a character of thei4 own, don’t they? They beg to be questioned about what has happened within its walls and who lived there over the years. ‘Gull House’ stayed with me long after I’d finished ‘Snow Sisters’ and I look forward to learning about the old, brooding house in your current story.

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  2. So glad you wrote about your inspirational day, Jan. I very much enjoyed reading your post. Like Carol, I enjoy 'writing houses' and have used both Ty Newydd (Mr Lloyd-George's former home) and a large residence near Marble Arch. The latter was perfect for one of my pocket novels and I could envisage my heroine (servant/companion) going in and out, also walking away from busy Oxford Street towards Selfridge's to buy ribbons.

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    1. Thank you, Sandra. Houses have such a lot to offer writers, don’t they? Once immersed in a special house, the ideas seem to flow. Looking forward to some interesting houses in your next stories.

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  3. What a wonderful blog - thank you so much. Alison and I worked very hard to get the day as perfect as we could. The weather- which was stunning- helped our cause. It was great to see so many happy and productive writers - as well as cake eaters! hanks for the plug for the retreat in October - 7 bedrooms left- book soon!! Jenny (Posting as Kay because Google is throwing a wobbler) xx

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    1. Thank you, Jenny. It was clear that you and Alison had put a lot of effort into planning the day. The prompts were there if we needed them or we had the freedom ‘to do our own thing’. You were both on hand to talk through things arising from our writing, too.

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  4. Houses are central characters. It's a fact. I find them impossible to ignore. Glad you had such a great opportunity and made the most of it.

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    1. I agree with your comment about houses in general. The derelict farmhouse in your ‘A Time for Silence’ plays a vital role in the novel, I think. As readers, you take us right inside to hear the story of the events that took place within its walls. That house stayed with me for a long time. Yes, the day to Northmoor was great. 🙂

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  5. Great post, Jan, and I enjoyed reading your extract too!
    It was a lovely day, a little jewel that’s provided many images and memories to use later. It’s brought my novel 3 alive for me.
    Thankyou for your company, inspiring as always xx
    I can’t wait to get it finished now!

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    1. Thanks, Sue. Glad you got a lot out of the day, too. I agree we’ll be able to use some of the images in future writing. Where will our road trips take us next, I wonder?

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  6. Hi Jan, not just the day that was an inspiration - your post is too. I just love old houses you can feel the history crackling inside them can't you?
    Linda

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    1. Thank you, Linda. Old houses are a wonderful source of inspiration. I love your expression ‘history crackling inside them’! I certainly can feel it, too.

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  7. I was filled with envy when I saw your posts and Sue's photos on FB about this writing event, so I'm delighted to read all about it in detail here. Houses can be a wonderful source of inspiration. I am very lucky in that I dream about houses and walking round exploring them. I enjoyed reading your extract and I'm looking forward to hearing all about book 3 when we meet at the RNA Conference next month.

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    1. Thank you, Sue. Yes, there was so much to inspire your writing at Northmoor. There’s always so much to explore. I alway# imagine the type of characters who used to live in them. Can’t wait to chat at the conference. 🙂

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